Dangerous To Know – Chapter One

Last week I posted a possible first chapter for the new book I’m working on. After giving it some thought, I decided it was perhaps it didn’t have the impact I wanted, so I’m starting off with this instead. Hope you enjoy this little bit of a work in progress.

I reach Ingatestone. Bracken Manor is signposted immediately, Drawing my own conclusions, I believe that Mr Paul Harrington must have amassed a small fortune from property development. It has been rumoured that Harrington had evicted tenants and shopkeepers from their properties to provide a way for his more lucrative enterprises.

The drive is longer than I have anticipated, and is circumscribed by an avenue of trees. Dark and bare, the trees appear entangled and ghostly in the baleful glimmer of the strategically placed solar lights. The portcullis style gates yield instinctively as I pull up before them in my new black chrome GT-R. The car seems to have become a veritable bone of contention between my sister and my wife. The considerable amount of money I have earned from my previous job was far more lucrative than landscape gardening. After almost suffering the loss of my left arm by getting shot, I consider the £76,000 I spent on the motor is well deserved.  Unfortunately the money is depleting rapidly. Not that I’d enlighten my wife to that fact of course. I guess I may as well enjoy it before possibly returning the GT-R to the showroom when our new baby arrives.

The black gates swing wide. I roll the GT-R into the drive and kill a cigarette. I switch off the music on the powerful CD player. Can’t have The Doors’  L.A. Woman blasting into the night.

Alighting from the car, I pause to scan my surroundings with something akin to awe. The facade is fashioned in a mock Tudor style. A number of turrets rise into the indigo sky, where a three quarter moon ascends. From my somewhat limited knowledge of architecture, it isn’t difficult to assess the turrets are of a later addition. Wild russet coloured ivy serves to embellish the feeling of a past I would conjecture to be Victorian. Mullion windows appear as watchful sentinels, as if intimating a sense of protection for its inhabitants. Bracken Manor is indeed a beautiful house.

I park adjacently next to the three, equally sporty, motors, testifying to the fact that their owners appear decidedly wealthy.

There’s a modern bell on the front door that instructs ‘Please Ring for Attention’. So I do, innumerable times before anyone deigns to respond.

When the door is finally opened, a young man appears in the process of buttoning into a black shirt, before he tucks the latter into his jeans with impatient fingers. The youth wears long dark hair spilling  to his collar, framing almost angelically sculpted features.

“What do you want?” he growls impatiently.

“I’ve come to see Mr Harrington.”

“Which Mr Harrington? I’m Alexander.”

“Paul. Is that your father?”

“Yes, but the old man isn’t here.” He glances beyond me toward the drive.

“He asked me to come at seven. I’m the landscape gardener. Aidan McRaney.”

Aristocratic brows uplift in surprise, while dark eyes embrace mine with a thinly-veiled suspicion. “You got credentials?”

“Credentials?”

“My old man won’t let anyone in without credentials. You could be casing the joint for all I know. You could belong to an home invasion gang. We’ve been robbed before.”

“I can assure you I’m not part of any home invasion gang or anything else.”

I have never been requested to show my credentials before. The boy is obviously wary. I can’t blame him I suppose. It also means that Paul Harrington has mentioned nothing of my visit. I produce my driving licence, holding it up to his face. He peers at the cellophane-wrapped ID almost myopically.

“That your motor in the drive?”

I tell him that it is, pride in my voice. He merely shrugs, rolls his eyes and mutters, “Last year’s model,” with disdain, as if I dared to clutter up his drive with some old rust-bucket.

“How come the gates let you in? Where’s Greggors?”  The indignation remains in his voice, which serves to get my back up. I have no idea who Greggors might be. Perhaps he’s the gamekeeper. Wasn’t his name Greggors in Lady Chatterley’s Lover? Or was that Mellors?

“Pop must be expecting you then,” he muses. “Or else the gates wouldn’t have opened. Okay, Mr McRaney. I know a McRaney. He’s got some stupid Irish name. Ruari something or other.”

“Ruairi. Ruairi is my kid brother. So how do you know my brother?”

“He’s working on the set for our play. The Black Monk. I’m playing Lord Byron.”

“Lord Byron, hey?” I attempt to suppress any element of sarcasm my query is liable to produce.

“I can see the resemblance.” He tugs at his chin. “Same whiskers.” His words trail when a female shrills from somewhere inside the house. “You coming, Sandy?”

“Got to go.” He appears embarrassed. I had already guessed, stemming from the hurried clothes adjustment, that I might have been responsible for their coittus interruptus.

“Look, I don’t know anything about any landscaping. As far as I know we’ve already got two guys who do the grounds. But the Duchess might be able to help you.”

“The Duchess?”

“That’s what I call her anyway. Not to her face of course.” He grins. “Although she probably knows it already. She’s round the back.” He gestures in that general direction. “The old man’s at the pub. ‘Less you want to go there. The Feathers at Ingatestone.”

“It’s okay. I’ll wait.”

“He shouldn’t be long.”

“Where the fuck are you, Sandy?” Shrieks emanate from inside once more, and the door is promptly closed in my face. I’m left to go in search of the Duchess. Maybe she’s Harrington’s mother. After all he appears wealthy enough to install her in one of those Granny flats and the place is certainly accommodating.

I make my way around the back, simultaneously ingesting the well tended grounds that are partially illumined in the glimmer of strategically placed solar lamps. From what I can deduce, these are the kind of gardens Capability Brown himself would have been proud of.

There is topiary everywhere, plus several carefully cultivated trees and shrubs. A vast swimming pool is covered by a tarpaulin. Although there’s been storm damage in other gardens recently, there is precious little evidence of it here. It’s s if Bracken Manor and its beautiful grounds have been protected from the elements.

The rear of the house is in no way as palatial as the facade. An old wooden door, framed by an archway, boasts a black wrought iron knocker, complete with an ugly gargoyle with its tongue poking out, in an expression I can but describe as salacious.

Maybe the Duchess is hard of hearing. There’s no response, although I rap loudly on the knocker. What little I know about Duchesses, they are invariably elderly, with ancient countenances and Dowagers Humps.

I can hear a dog barking from inside. I decide to enter regardless, and figure I might be able to quieten Fido down with a few placating words.

Gingerly easing the door aside, I can’t help but stiffen when it squeals protestingly.  A small black and white King Charles spaniel bounds up to greet me. The dog continues its incessant tirade, but with its tail wagging.

The place seems to be some kind of scullery. The room is devoid of furniture, apart from a solitary wooden chair. Red tiles shine on the floor. The walls are whitewashed. A narrow window, set high into the wall, reflects the early evening moonlight.

“For God’s sake, Charlie, why are you making such a racket?” A woman appears, and calls the dog to heel. “Who are you? What do you want?” Her eyes widen with speculation. They are vividly green, interspersed with brownish flecks, and as piercing as sharpened stilettos. I detect a Southern Irish accent, one that is overly pronounced with  astonishment, doubtless at my unprecedented appearance. She holds a pool cue suggestively against her leg as if it were a weapon.

 

“I’m looking for Paul Harrington. He asked me to price up…”

“Greggors!” Her voice, sharper than broken glass, slices through my attempt at an explanation.

She wears tight black jeans plunged into riding boots. A brown cord jacket accentuates a slender waist. Her hair, a rich chocolate brown, is plaited and coiled atop her head.

Greggors appears at her summons. He too carries a pool cue. The man presents a distinctly forbidding aspect. He is completely bald. His head is overlarge and shimmers in the light as if he were in the habit of polishing it. Humpty Dumpty springs to mind. The features are squashed, rounded. The eyes are fractionally squinty, practically immersed in the mountainous flesh. If all this fails to define his unprepossessing appearance, there’s a big, old elongated white scar stretching right across his forehead, reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster. Beauty and the Beast has never seemed more apt.

“Who the fuck are you?” he adds the challenge. “And what are you doing here?”

 

 

Writing The Antagonist

What makes a villain?

Contrary to popular belief, villains do not fit into the 20-50 male age group. Villains come in all shapes and sizes, all ages, both genders. Prior to writing this I had just watched a documentary on the ‘C.I’ Channel. A woman was brutally murdered in her home. Her injuries were so  severe that her neck was almost broken. Four men were put in the frame for the woman’s murder, but the men all had strong alibis.

It was but a chance meeting with an ex-con that led them to a seventeen year old girl. She and a girlfriend had gone to the woman’s house to demand money for drugs. When the woman refused, one of the girl’s desecrated the body to such an extent, the police believed only a man could have committed the crime. Apparently, the girl had written in her diary how she wanted to kill someone before she died

Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were ten years old when they killed little James Bulger.

Mary Bell was eleven when she killed two little boys.

So what drives people to kill? To become villains? The child who enjoys killing and dissecting a frog to see what it’s made of. The child who kills another child, usually a younger one. Is it because they wish to know how it feels, how people will react?

Criminal profilers will suggest that the reason why Jack the Ripper slashed and sliced up prostitutes so viciously was that maybe his mother might have been a prostitute. That as a small boy, he loathed all the men who came to their house.

While not to make light of such terrible murders, these influences are sure to be drawn on when telling stories.

Writing the antagonist is as exciting as writing the protagonist. My villains have been varied and, I hasten to add, never return.   Once killed off, they stay dead. They’re not Freddie Krueger!

William Sefton in ‘All of them Vampires’ is a Victorian gentleman and  once a student of the occult. Sefton wants nothing better than for world domination by the vampires, so he summons The Old One, the original vampire to achieve that end.

In ‘Staying Out’, Rick Morelli, armed robber and a hardcase villain, is obsessed by the girl who went to prison in his stead. Now she is out, Morelli is aware the only way to win her back is to frame her for murder. Then she has no choice but to go with him.

In ‘Stalking Aidan’ the villains are stealthier, and prefer to use the psychology of mind-games in order for Aidan McRaney, the object of their obsession, to develop a paranoia he fails to control.

I think for me the most evil has to be Daniel Corrigan in ‘Progeny of a Killer’. Corrigan is a man whose obsession is with the past and his  IRA father’s death at the hands of the British soldiers at a Crossmaglen checkpoint. These factors practically ensure his own destruction. The fact Corrigan’s obsession with the execution of the rebels in Dublin in 1916 serves to consume him to the point of madness. His insanity spills out into terrible atrocities he commits on the Mainland, among them paedophilia.

Whereas Paul Harrington in the book I’m working on now,  ‘Dangerous to Know’, is a suave businessman with a beautiful wife. Harrington is wealthy, but he too has an obsession, a  desire to kill that  stems from the fact his 18 year old daughter was raped and  subsequently drowned herself in their pool. When Aidan refuses to kill for him, Harrington’s own obsession  at being thwarted in his request, is such that he wreaks a terrible revenge on someone close to the young man’s  heart.

 

 

Dangerous To Know (Work In Progress)

I’ve decided to put up the first chapter of the new book I’m working on – ‘Dangerous To Know’, which continues the story of Aidan McRaney. As it’s a work in progress, it’s all subject to change, but I was excited about sharing it.

CHAPTER ONE

THE ANNIVERSARY

Tonight, it is my intention to both enjoy myself and be the most attentive husband I can be to the beautiful woman I married. If only the couple seated opposite would desist in throwing small, but surreptitious glances in our direction. I find nothing more disconcerting than being stared at. Whenever I return my attention to my wife, I’m ultimately conscious of their scrutiny.

A recalcitrant thatch of leonine blond hair sweeps from a particularly high forehead.  The inordinately polished features are sun-bronzed, classical, and as if he has recently returned from holiday. The perfect curve of full lips accentuate a handsome face. The man is as  elegantly cut as the grey linen suit he sports, with matching tie and white shirt. Unlike myself, he’s wearing no off the peg job.

His companion, whom I judge to be somewhere into her late thirties, is the perfect accompaniment. Her features are small, almost delicate. Yet the mouth hints of a defined twist, that might border on the cruel. The assumption is further embellished by the deepest set of flinty grey eyes.

She wears a sapphire blue dress. The dress is fitted, and does precious little to conceal the protuberant bulge of flesh in evidence beneath her arms. Her hair, like the man’s, is blonde. Boyishly cut short, her hair is baby-fine. Darker roots tinge the blonde. Numerous  bracelets slither to elegant wrists, when she lowers her arms to the table, in order to pay attention to the man.

“You haven’t heard a word I’ve said, have you, Aidan? You checking out that woman?”

My wife is a discordant buzz in the distant reaches of my subconscious. I regard her  incredulously.  “God no! But they have been checking us out practically since we arrived.” Caitlan snaps her eyes and clucks her tongue, descending a braceleted wrist over mine. “You’re just being paranoid. You haven’t been the same since you returned from that last job. Always looking over your shoulder. I find it unnerving at times.”

“I’m sorry. After what happened, do you  blame me? Anyway, you know it’s over.”

“I hope so, because we need to move on. We have this now. It has to be over.”

I cast a cursory glance at the couple. Their meal has arrived. They appear to be more interested in that event. Caitlan is right. I should relinquish the paranoia. Especially tonight. We have been married two years. Our special occasion. Where else could I have taken the most beautiful woman in London? At least in my considered opinion. Sargents just happens to be one of the most select restaurants in the West End. The prices are extortionate, but no expense has been spared.

Wearing a green satin dress, caught into the slender proportions of her tiny waist, who would remotely suspect that she has recently given birth? Our daughter is barely eighteen months old. Now the familiar emerald eyes snap wide again. She embraces my own with such love, but with an admix of the concern I can’t help but interpret in their depths.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I didn’t mean to unnerve you. There won’t be anymore of those jobs, I promise.” I sip from the glass of Sancerre at my elbow. I make a face. I would have preferred a Scotch. I promised my wife that I wouldn’t drink so much. She hates the whisky and admonishes me about breathing alcohol fumes over our daughter. “I’m trying to get this landscape business up and running.”

We wait for our meal to arrive. It seems to take forever. I realise that I’ve managed to polish off most of the wine. I’m about to pour the final dregs into my glass when Caitlan says,  “The thing is we never seem to talk anymore.”

I stare at her amazed. “What are we doing now then?”

“I mean…” Her hesitation is almost painful. Her white throat undulates beneath the string of emeralds. “Your sister…” she attempts to explain.

“What about my sister?” I drain the last drop of Sancerre, whereas Caitlan still nurses her first.

“She’s always there, at our flat. Always inviting us over, and you never refuse. I know she means well.”

“Sure she means well. An unpaid babysitter. What more do you want? She’s someone we can trust. I thought you and Bridget got on okay.”

“We do. But the way she idolises you and worries about you, it’s as if you were her son rather than her brother.”

“That’s ridiculous.” I endeavour to suppress a rise of laughter. “Listen to yourself. I suppose it  stems from when I was a kid. After Mum died, Brid sort of took over the motherly role with us.”

“Well you’re not a kid anymore. You’re thirty one years old. So there’s no reason for her to interfere is there?”

“Brid doesn’t interfere. Come on, this is our anniversary. Do we have to discuss this shit right now, babe?”

I reach for her hand. A thin stemmed vase separates us. The vase contains the six red roses that I had ordered to be placed at our table. After all it is St Valentines. The candlelight bathes her features, suffusing them with colour. Her long dark hair is coiled into a plait atop her head, which had been perfectly coiffured by my sister.

Bridget often tells us that it’s a pleasure to do things for her brother and his lovely wife, as Caitlan has changed my life for the better. Now Caitlan boasts some unwarranted bee in her bonnet concerning my sister’s alleged shortcomings.

“Why is it, whenever we need to have a serious discussion, you always call it shit?”

“Because, right now, we don’t need to have a discussion about anything. We’ll talk when we get home.” I’m compelled to let my words trail because Sapphire Dress, a forkful of steak en route to her mouth, has those rather expressive sculpted eyebrows arched with interest. It’s as if her intention is to savour the argument she believes is about to ensue.

“Your sister will be there.”

“She’s babysitting Catie. If she’s not there I’ll be just a wee bit concerned, don’t you think?”

I hadn’t intended sarcasm, but tonight, when I wish for everything to be perfect, Caitlan appears to be in an argumentative mood. She’s invariably delicate, quietly spoken. A persona complimentary to the beautiful dress she wears. “So come on, sweetheart. If you have something to say, please say it. Let’s get this, whatever this is, over with.  Our meal should be here soon. You and Brid have a row?”

“No, we haven’t had a row. It’s-it’s just…”

“Just what?” I bring her hand up to my lips.”I need to know so that we can get it sorted. I don’t want you to be unhappy. If it’s something to do with my sister, then I’ll have a word. I know she likes to mother us all. Maybe it’s the age difference between you. All I’ve seen is Brid going out of  her way to help with Catie, so we can have a night out, and I notice that you rely on her too.”

“Not as much as you do.”

“Okay. Sure I’ll admit it, I do rely on her. She’s that kind of woman, everyone cries on her shoulder. What’s all this about?”

If only Sapphire Dress would cease her indefatigable staring. I’ll have to say something. Risk a scene. I’m beginning to find that flirty stare distinctly unnerving. While the throbbing pain searing through my left shoulder serves to remind me of a  past I’d prefer to forget.

“We have each other. I want it to be just us.”

“You know I want that too. I want you all the time, but I still don’t see…”

“I know you and Brid are close, but does she have to hug you all the time?”

I fail to suppress a grin at what she intimates. “She’s been like that ever since I came out of prison. As if she’s scared of letting me out of her sight. You make it sound as if we’re having some wild incestuous affair. That would be just plain weird.”

“No, of course not.” Colour flames her face again. It’s conducive to making me wish that I could make love to her right here and now. If only she’d  refrain  from behaving quite as shrewish. Regardless of her disapproving glances, I’ve practically polished off the remainder of the Sancerre, and the meal hasn’t yet arrived.

The smoothly shaven blond guy across from us toasts Sapphire Dress with entwined hands and a glass of Riesling. Maybe it’s their anniversary too, or they are simply displaying a friendly affinity. So perfectly innocent, as Caitlan suggest, and I’m being my old paranoid self. There’s no law against staring is there? It’s just that I don’t like people staring at me when I feel as if they have an ulterior motive.

“Oh, for God’s sake!” Caitlan exclaims so sharply, it now seems that everyone in the restaurant is staring at us, no doubt anticipating an argument. One I’m determined to suppress. I have no desire to continue this ridiculous discussion.

“Jesus, Caitlan, keep your voice down,” I hiss with embarrassment. “Go on, get this over with. Whatever it is has obviously upset you. No, Bridget and me are not having an affair.”

“When you’re at work she comes to see if I’m okay.”

“What’s wrong with that? It’s the kind of caring person that she is.”

“I know, but she’s always looking about the flat. I can’t help it if I’m untidy. Catie takes up most of my time. She has kids. She knows what it’s like. She also expects me to go to Mass with her every week, when I just want to spend some time with my husband.”

“So that’s what it’s all about. You going to Mass. Don ‘t look at me. I get enough disapproving looks from Father Anselm. Like I said, we’ll discuss this when we get home. If you don’t want Brid to come around, or take you to Mass, then I’ll tell her. Or better still you can.”

“When we’re all together,you seem to talk to Bridget more than you talk to me.”

“Caitlan.” I smooth a hand over my beard with exasperation. “Don ‘t tell me you’re jealous of my sister. I know you don’t like me looking at other women. Maybe we should live on a female-free desert island somewhere.”

Not only do I relish the taste of a double Scotch right now, I could also use a cigarette. I have planned this night, with my sister’s help, to be so perfect. Even the once blooming red roses are beginning to wilt in the heat of the crowded restaurant.

Waiters, bedecked in red shirts and black trousers, move through the various tables, trays of steaming hot food borne aloft.

Flicking a glance to my watch, I can’t help but complain to my wife over the late arrival of our meal.

“I just want to be alone with you so much,” Caitlan says.

I want to remind her that I’m alone with her now. Well sort of.

The waiter, a pimply faced individual, deposits our food before us. “Your order, Sir,” he declares. “Sorry about keeping you waiting,” he adds by way of apology.

When Caitlan interjects, “We’re going to have another baby, Aidan.”